World Championships, Day Eight Finals: United States Breaks Through With Dominant Men’s Medley Relay Win

American backstroker Ryan Murphy — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto


30 July 2023, 05:55am

World Championships, Day Eight Finals: United States Breaks Through With Dominant Men’s Medley Relay Win

The top of the podium has proved elusive for the United States thus far at the World Championships. The Americans have won a substantial share of medals, tying the second-most-prolific performance in the pool in Worlds history in terms of overall count, but they had won only four gold medals entering the meet’s final day. Significantly, they had missed winning all previous relays, earning silver or bronze on each occasion despite solid performances.

But the U.S. foursome in the men’s 400 medley relay broke that pattern in dramatic fashion, with some California Golden Bear and New Jersey flair. Poised to face a challenge from upstart China, fueled by triple breaststroke gold medalist Qin Haiyang handling that stroke, the U.S. team never trailed.

On backstroke, Ryan Murphy jumped out to a lead of more than one second. He touched in 52.04, ahead of his winning time of 52.22 from the individual 100-meter final. In comparison, China’s Xu Jiayu, likely fatigued after earning bronze in the 50 back final earlier in the evening, swam a time of 53.39 that was three-quarters of a second behind his time from the individual final, where he placed fourth in 52.64.

Qin went to work on breaststroke to close the gap on American Nic Fink, but the 30-year-old who finished in a three-way tie for silver in the 100 breast did not yield. He split 58.03, the quickest mark of his career, so Qin only narrowed the margin by seven tenths with his 57.43 split. The Americans owned an eight-tenth lead at the halfway point, giving way to a pair of rookies, both New Jersey-natives like Fink and both representing Cal, Murphy’s alma mater, in collegiate competition. Both men were finishing off extremely impressive senior international debuts this week in Fukuoka.

In his first international relay final one day after claiming bronze in the individual 100 fly, Dare Rose shined on his leg with a 50.13 split. A pair of swimmers surpassed Rose on that leg, with France’s Maxime Grousset blasting a 49.27 that only Caeleb Dressel has ever surpassed and Australia’s Matt Temple went 50.10. But butterfly was China’s weakest leg, with Wang Changhao splitting 51.56, allowing Rose to give the Americans a lead of more than one second.

“It was super special,” Rose said of his swim and the entire race. “I knew we had two veterans on the team, so obviously didn’t want to let them down. Obviously wanted to do something special at the same time. I just put my head down at the wall, made sure I touched.”

As Jack Alexy entered the pool to anchor, the U.S. team was in an ideal spot. Alexy broke out in Fukuoka with a pair of unexpected individual silver medals in the 100 free and 50 free along with a relay silver and bronze entering the final day, and Alexy would not be caught here, splitting 47.00 to bring the Americans home with a convincing victory.

The final time for the Americans was 3:27.20, the second-fastest relay performance ever, behind only the Americans’ world record of 3:26.78 set at the Tokyo Olympics. They beat the championship record of 3:27.28 set by the U.S. during the polyurethane-suit World Championships in 2009.

The win was the first world title for the Americans in this event since 2017 after a pair of dramatic finishes left the U.S. with silver. Last year, Italy rode a strong front half to a world title (before surprisingly failing to make the final this year) while Great Britain was victorious in 2019 thanks to Adam Peaty’s breaststroke brilliance and Duncan Scott posting the second-quickest freestyle split ever.

“I love finishing that way. Going into that race, we take a lot of pride in racing for the U.S. and really having great swimmers over all four strokes, that gives us a lot of confidence behind the blocks,” Murphy said. “I think it’s a really resilient group. Coming out of the meet, we all know that there’s room to improve for next year, and I think everyone’s leaving this meet really hungry and really motivated. At the same time, it’s nice to have that little confidence boost at the end of the meet and we can take that excitement and build on it.”

Fink added that even though Rose and Alexy were each swimming in this position for the first time, he believed in their capabilities to secure this gold medal based on their track records of performance throughout the week.

“I think they were confident enough. They’re good enough to where they stepped up big this week,” Fink said. “I don’t think they were relying on us to get them a big lead. They knew what they had to do and we knew what we had to do. In that sense, we were all going into it knowing we had a job to do, and we were able to accomplish the job.”

China, with Pan Zhanle anchoring with the field’s quickest split at 46.62, grabbed silver in 3:29.00. The achievement was China’s first-ever medal in the men’s 400 medley relay. Australia ended up earning bronze as Kyle Chalmers came home in 46.62, joining Bradley WoodwardZac Stubblety-Cook and Temple to swim a time of 3:29.62. The men’s medley was seemingly Australia’s weakest relay, but this foursome got onto the podium to ensure a podium finish in all four events.

France, with Yohann Ndoye-BrouardLeon Marchand and Hadrian Salvan joining Grousset, placed fourth in 3:29.88, while Great Britain ended up fifth in 3:30.16 after a strong 46.93 anchor leg from Matt Richards.


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